Legalizing domestic violence: Topeka's 'terrible' plan to save money
Just in time for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Kansas' capital city is on the verge of decriminalizing domestic battery as part of a budget standoff
The Topeka City Council will decide next week whether to essentially legalize domestic violence in the Kansas capital, in a budgetary game of chicken with Shawnee County, which encompasses Topeka. The fight started when Shawnee District Attorney Chad Taylor, facing a 10 percent budget cut for next year, announced Sept. 8 that his office would no longer prosecute misdemeanor cases, including those involving domestic violence, inside Topeka city limits. The City Council is betting that if it strikes Topeka's ordinance against domestic battery, it will force Taylor to reconsider. Here's what you should know:
What happens if Topeka follows through?If the City Council repeals the domestic-battery ordinance, municipal courts wouldn't be able to take on those cases, effectively sending the ball back to Taylor's court. Domestic violence is still a state crime. But "because only Taylor has authority to decide what cases he files and prosecutes," domestic violence prosecution could slow to a trickle, says The Topeka Capital-Journal in an editorial. Repeat offenders are charged as felons, and the D.A. would still take those cases.
How bad could this get?Already, the standoff is putting victims in grave danger "in the world that does not exist inside of an Excel spreadsheet," says Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel. Taylor has rejected at least 30 domestic violence cases since Sept. 8, and the 18 people arrested in Topeka for domestic battery have all been released from county jail because no charges were filed. And even if Taylor eventually blinks, and decides to resume prosecuting first-time offenders, the City Council's decriminalization of domestic violence would still send "a terrible message to victims of domestic battery and the entire community," says The Topeka Capital-Journal's editorial board.
How dire is the financial situation?In 2012, the D.A.'s office expects to see $347,765 cut from its budget — which is $3.5 million this year. Of course, if nobody takes these domestic violence cases, it could save some money in the short run, says Marie Diamond at ThinkProgress. But domestic violence has "staggering financial consequences" — medical costs, for instance. There are bigger human costs, too, says Topeka victims' advocate Claudine Dombrowski. If the city and county keep up this "disgusting" fight, "they need to invest in headstones, because these women are going to end up in cemeteries."
Who should shoulder the blame?Everyone involved says they believe domestic violence needs to be prosecuted vigorously, but that they can't pay for it, says Maya Dusenbery at Feministing. And "it’s hard to blame them too harshly for that," given the deep budget cuts hitting states and cities. "Thanks, austerity!" Maybe, says National Organization for Women's Kari Ann Rinker. But right now, local officials are just "finger-pointing and blaming" like 5-year-old children, and they all deserve "some amount of blame" for putting women at undue risk.